Many states are struggling with a fundamental choice in improving at risk schools. Do you help communities to band together to bring resources and talent to struggling schools or does the state take over these schools and ‘fix’ them by turning them over to charter management companies?
Leigh Dingerson, a consultant with the Annenberg Institute compares state take over districts to community school approaches to improving achievement in at risk schools. The report was commissioned by the Southern Education Foundation.
One approach is to create community schools and the other is for the state take over of local schools. We have some community schools in Florida. Now, we have a legislative proposal for take over districts called ‘High Impact Charter Districts’. Note the word charter in the title. The state takes over struggling schools and turns them over to charter management firms. It assumes that communities do not have the will to solve problems and someone outside is needed. For legislatures, take over districts seem like the simpler solution. Hire some company to fix the problem–like call the plumber to stop a leak. There, problem solved! Of course, this approach takes the community out of the school, and the divisions grow deeper.
When the communities, parents, public agencies and schools collaborate, I think of it as putting the public back in public education. It may be more difficult to do than take over district solutions, but it can really work for all children, not just some.
Some excerpts from the report are illustrative:
When public schools become community hubs, offering services beyond the school day, creating strong learning cultures, providing safe and supportive environments for both students and educators–student outcomes improve. Across the country, states, districts, and individual schools are taking on the challenge of building ground up reform that works.
In Kentucky, a network of family resources and youth service centers that provide preschool programs, before and after school care, professional development for teachers, substance abuse programs and family literacy programs and more
In Clarke County, Georgia multiple partnerships with local nonprofit groups to prevent the ‘summer slide’ in learning, food insecurity, and to provide after school enrichment programs. All district schools have an IB middle school program, and gardens. Every child has a laptop. The superintendent is the National Superintendent of the Year!
Georgia’s legislature is considering a Opportunity District Bill much like the High Impact Charter District now being proposed in Florida. These measures take control away from districts. These are state take over schools much like those in Newark, New Orleans, Memphis, and Detroit that have concentrated poverty and large minority populations. The schools are either closed or turned in to charters. Parents feel disenfranchised. Achievement levels do not improve.
What makes a difference in helping children learn? Read the report on how schools achieve these strategies through a community school approach:
- Access to high quality preschool education
- Collaboration and stable school leadership
- Quality teachers and support
- Restorative practices and student centered learning environment
- Strong curriculum that is rigorous, rich and culturally relevant
- Wrap around support for students and their families
- Deep parent-community-school ties